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Report: widespread abuse of Irish children in Catholic Church-run institutions

The government did little as Generations of children were abused, according to the nearly decade-long investigation. Counseling centers report a surge in callers since the report's release.

By Michael SeaverCorrespondent / May 21, 2009

A man looks at the Papal Cross in Phoenix Park, Dublin, Ireland, Wednesday May, 20, 2009. A fiercely debated, nine-year investigation into Ireland's Roman Catholic-run institutions says priests and nuns terrorized thousands of boys and girls in workhouse-style schools for decades – and government inspectors failed to stop the chronic beatings, rapes and humiliation.

Peter Morrison/AP

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DUBLIN, IRELAND – Help lines and counseling services have reported a surge in callers after the publication Wednesday of a five-volume report (find it here) by Ireland's Commission into Child Abuse that found widespread “physical and emotional abuse and neglect" of thousands of children in dozens of orphanages, schools, and workhouse-style reform schools run by Roman Catholic religious orders.

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The victim support group, One in Four, which called yesterday a "shameful day" for Ireland, kept its lines open into the night. Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop, chief executive of the Rape Crisis Centre, told The Irish Times that many who had contacted the center were first-time callers.

"Last night we brought in extra volunteers to man the phones … and already today we've had a large number of people contacting us," she said.

The report found that sexual abuse was “endemic” in boys’ institutions, and throughout the system children were “frequently hungry” and “lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from.” The investigation spanned incidents from the 1930s to the 1990s. Many of the institutions have since closed. The government has vowed to increase unannounced inspections of those still open.

Based on evidence from almost 2,000 witnesses and various representatives from religious orders that ran the institutions, the report took nearly a decade to complete. In addition to the investigation committee, which produced the report, there was also a truth forum-style confidential committee that allowed victims to tell their stories out of the public eye.

More than 800 priests, nuns, and brothers were implicated in the report. Victims' groups have expressed outrage that specific names of abusers were not mentioned. Much of the abuse is blamed on the Christian Brothers religious order, which was Ireland's largest provider of workhouse-style schools for boys. The order successfully sued the commission in 2004 to prevent names from being included in the report.

Although the abuse took place in religious-run institutions, the government’s Department of Education “knew that violence and beatings were endemic in the system.” But “its deferential and submissive attitude towards the congregations compromised its ability to carry out its statutory duty of inspection and monitoring the schools.” Furthermore, the religious orders covered up cases of sexual abuse.

Cardinal Sean Brady, leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, said that he hoped that the report will help to heal the hurt of victims. “The Catholic Church remains determined to do all that is necessary to make the Church a safe, life-giving and joyful place for children,” he said in a statement.

[Editor's note: The original version of this story incorrectly attributed Cardinal Brady's quote.]

The findings vindicate the victims, but author and playwright Mannix Flynn, who was sent to Letterfrack Reformatory School in Galway when he was 11 for stealing a box of chocolates, doubts that victims will find closure.

“I’m mindful that these reports aren’t some kind of memorial or closing of the process,” he told RTÉ News.

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